Although he’s still rehabbing from microfracture surgery, and despite the fact that the Redskins acquired Jason Hatcher this offseason, defensive end Stephen Bowen remains confident that he will not only make a full recovery in 2014, but that he will remain a starter.
Bowen, who is 30 and will enter his ninth NFL season, had his 2013 campaign cut short after 10 games because he needed surgery on his knee. It marked the second straight season that Bowen had his effectiveness significantly hampered by knee problems. In 2011, his first with the Redskins, he had a career year, with 41 tackles and six sacks. But Bowen had only 25 tackles and one sack in 2012 and just 19 tackles, and no sacks last season.
Microfracture surgery generally is a complicated procedure to comeback from – particularly for an athlete that has reached his 30s. But Bowen remains encouraged by his progress.
Just before teeing off Monday at the annual Brian Orakpo Leukemia Golf Classic, Bowen, who no longer walks with a limp, said that earlier that morning, he had sprinted on a body weight-supported treadmill at about 80 percent of his weight. Bowen said his doctor said that he remains on schedule to complete his recovery later this summer, and that he received a second opinion, and that doctor confirmed that target date.
“I may be healthy before that, but training camp is where they want me to be ready 100 percent, and I have no doubt in my mind that I’ll be ready,” Bowen said.
Asked about the challenge of coming back from microfracture surgery, Bowen said every case is different and that his situation was less severe.
“People don’t really know what it is. They hear microfracture, and they don’t really know,” he explained. “I was missing a piece of cartilage in my knee, and basically, it helps restore that area. I had no ligament problems there. It’s all about strengthening the muscles around that area in my knee so that it stays stabilized.”
Earlier this offseason, Bowen seemed to face an even more uncertain future. In addition to his health, his salary (he counts $7.02 million against the cap this season) raised the question as to whether Washington would release him. Then Washington signed Hatcher, the former Dallas Cowboys pass rusher, and Bowen’s best friend, casting further doubt on his job security.
But Bowen actually helped recruit Hatcher, and remains in the Redskins’ plans. Bowen, who said the Redskins never approached him about restructuring his contract, expressed excitement about his reunion with Hatcher and thinks the improved depth of the line will spur Washington’s defense to success.
“I’m willing to do what it takes to win. I feel like we’ve got a lot of talent on the defensive line,” Bowen said. “I feel like the great defenses that win championships, they come at people in waves. They have a lot of talent, and that’s how you get it done. … I think, just basically the defensive line as a whole, for us to be the dominant group, everybody has to have a role. Everybody has to know their role and play it out to perfection.”
The past three seasons, Bowen started at right end. In 2012 and 2013, Jarvis Jenkins started at left end. Meanwhile, Chris Baker, whom Washington re-signed this offseason, started the final stretch of the season at right end in place of Bowen. Hatcher played on the right side while at Dallas, but the Pro Bowl lineman said Redskins coaches plan to move him around to capitalize on mismatches.
It remains unclear where Bowen, Jenkins (a 2011 second-round pick who has struggled with consistency) and Baker fit into the picture, but defensive coordinator Jim Haslett traditionally rotates linemen in and out to keep them fresh.
Bowen doesn’t see himself as a backup, however.
“I’ll let the chips fall where they fall, but for me, I’m very confident in my ability,” he said. “I’m one of the top 3-4 D-ends in the league, and for what they ask me to do, I know there’s not many people who can do it better than what I do. That’s not me being cocky. It’s me being confident in my ability. As for me, I think yeah, definitely, I’ll be a starter again.”
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